We older adults have had our lives greatly affected by COVID-19. We don’t answer our doors when our neighbors or relatives knock, not knowing whether they have received their vaccinations. We hesitate to go to the grocery store, fearing that we could contract the virus on our way to get milk. This means that we are spending a lot more of our time alone, trying to get by with as little help as we can, to protect ourselves. Surely all of those cautious techniques have their reason. But as we spend more time alone, we forget that we may continue to be susceptible to injuries and incidents, such as falling when no one is around.

With older adults spending more time alone in order to reduce the risk of COVID exposure, susceptibility to injuries continues – such as falling when no one is around. Monahova Irina/Shutterstock.com

I belong to an ad hoc committee of the South Portland City Council that is concerned about our older adults. Our committee, Age Friendly South Portland, is focused on helping our residents live safely and happily in their homes and communities as they age. Yes, I am well over 60 and so I am well aware of how tough it can be to live by yourself and navigate life safely, especially with COVID-19 lurking in our backyards.

In 2020, while we were largely in quarantine, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of all emergency medical services calls reported by South Portland residents over 60 years of age were for fall-related incidents in private residences, with the majority of those calls (66 percent) reported by adults between the ages of 70 and 89. We learned this thanks to a project led by the Maine Council on Aging, in which they and community partners helped surface key needs of South Portland’s older adult population using data-driven analysis. For that reason, we have developed an event targeting falls prevention and intervention practices that I want you to know about.

At a two-day event originally slated for Friday and Saturday (because of the weather forecast, it will have to be rescheduled), we are planning a presentation featuring your neighbors and health experts to teach ways of preventing falls as we age. The next day, we are hosting a three-part event. First is an opportunity for your fall risk to be assessed; second is to visit vendors who might be able to help with preventative strategies, and third is to participate in a walking event, with information available about pedestrian safety. People who are healthy and vibrant now can learn ways to decrease their fall risk as they experience normal changes of aging. We want you to stay healthy and vibrant – and there is much to learn and do!

In my youth, I was an avid horsewoman, and through the years I remained strong and active. Over the last few years, I personally experienced a few falls that needed medical attention. My hobby, beekeeping, has sometimes put me at risk. But, like you, I never believed that I would have an accident or be at risk of falling. How about you – have you had a fall or a close call? One time, I fell trying to carry two beehive boxes down a steep hill. What I didn’t think about was that I couldn’t see over the top of those boxes to where my feet were landing. I caught my foot on a rock and fell forward, with my forehead landing smack into those heavy wood boxes. I ended up with a concussion, which caused me many, many problems.

Though we’ve had to put off the presentation, I’m still planning to tell a bit more about my falls experience. As a member of Age Friendly South Portland, I have had my eyes and mind opened to ways to prevent my risk of falling – and I want you to hear this information.

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